Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park Visits

Tentative Plans:

After planning to do the Grand Canyon Rim-Rim-Rim hike over the thanksgiving break, I decided, that might also be a good time to also check out a couple of National parks in Utah. If time permits, I’d like to do a couple of hikes in Zion and a couple of hikes in Bryce. This is just a first cut plan, things will evolve based on both outdoor conditions and my physical condition :)

Researching Zion National Park:


Nov – 64, 37 (Average high and low) 86,6 (Record high and low)
Sunrise/Sunset – 7:11 am to 5:22 pm

Things to do:
Drive through the Scenic Drive.


I’ll most likely do just the Angel’s landing and Observation point hikes. Narrows would be too cold this time of the year – I might just go get a look see, but not actually hike in Narrows.

Angel’s Landing Hike:

Supposed to take 4 hours. 5.4 miles and 1500ft Elevation. Should not be too hard as long as there is no snow. If snow, avoid.
If I start this hike after Sunrise, say around 8 am, and finish by 1pm, I might not be able to do Narrows on the same day ?
Need to either start earlier, or spend 2 days in Zion. 1 day sight-seeing and Angel’s Landing. Day 2 Narrows ? In case narrows is not possible due to inclement weather, do the Observation Point hike instead. Narrows can be done another time.

Observation Point via East Rim Trail:

8 miles round trip. 2150ft elevation gain. Expected finish time – 6 hours. Even assuming 4 hours, I might only if not too tired be able to do both Angel’s landing and this on the same day. Post which, I will be pretty exhausted.

Narrows Hike:

From the Zion newsletter,

DAY HIKE FROM THE BOTTOM AND BACK: This round-trip hike can last up to eight hours and is the simplest way to experience The Narrows. Start at the Temple of Sinawava, walk one mile to the end of the paved Riverside Walk, and begin wading up the river. There is no formal destination and you must return the same way you entered. Many hikers try to reach the junction with Orderville Canyon, a tributary creek approximately two hours upstream from the paved trail. A permit is not required. Group size limits apply past Orderville Canyon. Travel upstream into Orderville Canyon or past Big Spring is prohibited.


• Obtain weather and flash flood potential forecasts before your trip.
• Wear closed-toe shoes or sturdy boots with ankle support, not sandals or water shoes.
• Take a walking stick. Do not cut tree branches for sticks.
• Children should not hike in the river due to strong currents and deep pools.
• Carry out all trash, including food wrappers, apple cores, fruit peels, and toilet paper.
• Carry a gallon of drinking water per person per day, food, and first aid kit.
• Wear warm clothing. The Narrows is much cooler than other areas in Zion.
• Pack your gear in waterproof bags.
• Use the restroom at the Riverside Walk trailhead before hiking. There are no toilets in The Narrows.

Researching Bryce Canyon:

Chances I’ll hit Bryce are looking very slim at this point, but if it’s just a short drive away, and I just want to see the park, I think it can be managed.

Grand Canyon – Rim-Rim-Rim Hike

I found this page which is wonderfully written and quite nicely composed with well shot pictures as well. I doubt if I will ever have the patience to write something so nice, so I’ll just include a link to it instead :)


** Update 2015-11-05 – After keeping fingers crossed for 1 day, (ok, I didn’t actually do it :) ) I finally received the permit by email today :) with directions to attach it to the pack. (I hadn’t found this page on my own – so I’m sharing the link here.) So, looks like I’m all set – permits and reservations wise. Now I just need to pray every day that the weather is not horrible on the 3 days I plan to hike.


** Update 2015-11-03 – So I went ahead and sent 3 different itineraries with different combinations I could think of, last evening. I receive an email this morning saying one of them had been tentatively accepted. Can’t say how overjoyed I am!! Yippee!! They must have realized that I am one persistent SoG and will not relent :) Here’s an excerpt from the email I received:

“At your request we have temporarily reserved a trip for you. However, before we accept a $xx non-refundable payment from you, we want to make sure you understand what you requested. Experience has shown that solo hiking leaves an inadequate safety margin for dealing with problems that might come up, and this can lead to poor decisions, expounded injuries, and even death.  Please do not accept this itinerary merely because it is available. Make sure it is what you really want and well within your capability. The Hiker Information Sheet form (available at http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/Hiker_Information_Sheet.pdf) explains some key factors that work together to make hiking within Grand Canyon unusually difficult and potentially dangerous. If this itinerary is not what you want or not within the capability of all group members, consider canceling or making a different request — you can download a request form at:  http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/permit-request.pdf

If you are highly experienced at Grand Canyon and determined to keep this particular itinerary, a permit can be issued to you. Simply read and complete a Hiker Information Sheet (this is useful in the event of an emergency) and return the form to us with full payment.

Note: The hike from the South Rim to Cottonwood campground is considered to be very strenuous.  Not only are you hiking 14 or 17 miles, you are also losing almost 5,000 feet of elevation followed by a gain of 1,500 feet.  Please make sure that everyone in your group is capable of completing this hike.  If you want this permit, please fill out the Hiker Information Sheet and either fax or mail it back to our office.  Thank you!

Sounds like fair warning. It basically says – if you are not fully aware of what you are getting into, and fully prepared, don’t come! Even if you are both aware and prepared, there could still be emergencies, and hiking alone is not a good idea. I fully intend to be fully aware and prepared :) As for the hiking alone, you might fall off a cliff, lightning might strike you – well, yes, and yes, someone cannot help you, but hey, a drunk motorist can run you over too while you are crossing the road. :) Plus, trying to find company for a good hike and making sure your plans overlap is a <profane-word(s)>.

** Update: 2015-11-02
 – So, my permit requests to the backcountry campgrounds was denied today. I had requested for Bright Angel campground on 11-21 and 11-22 I believe. With me being flexible to stay in Indian Garden campground on 11-22. Darn it! This will throw a wrench into the plans for sure. I might have to hike rim-river-rim instead on the 22nd and 23rd.

I managed to book a campground in the Mather campgrounds for 11-21-2015. So in case, my attempt to do a walk-in reservation of the campgrounds is denied on 11-21, I’ll at least look around Grand Canyon at a slow pace, and then have a place to sleep for the night. At $18, you can hardly complain. I think the weather might be pretty cold in the rims though. Worst case scenario, will sleep in the car. :)

I’m going to try a few more permutations/combinations of different back-country campgrounds and see if at least one of them goes through. Fingers crossed :/ As a backup, also ring up Phantom Ranch and see if they can put me up for 11-21 as well. (I want to be farther down on 11-21 night, but at this point I cannot be picky.)

** Update: 2015-11-01 – I got a reservation for a dorm slot in Phantom Ranch on 11-22-2015. I also got a breakfast reserved for 11-23-2015 and a sack lunch reserved for 11-21-2015. I am yet to be able to get a Vegetarian dinner for 11-22-2015 – apparently only steak dinners are available! Yikes! I’d much rather get another sack lunch.

I thought after attempting the North Rim hike, I should try and get (a) Good food and (b) Good rest before heading out. So, it made sense not to sleep in a tent.

Preliminary Plans

I’ve been wanting to do the Grand Canyon Rim-Rim hike for more than a year now. We had plans to do it from the North Rim to the South Rim in May of 2014, but for some reasons, after all preparations had been made including booking shuttles to get us to the North Rim, and booking the North Kaibab lodge, our plans had to be dropped at the last minute. This was a little sad, because everyone involved in the plan was physically conditioned to be able to do the hike quite comfortably. Getting a group which is physically conditioned and mentally motivated is a big deal. Only a few months later, I moved from Tempe to Austin, and now the Grand Canyon is not as accessible as it once was. :/

However, I do get a week off during thanksgiving, and after some other plans fell through, I decided I wanted to do the Rim-Rim. Of course, the problem with doing it in November is that the North Rim is closed, and so is the North Kaibab lodge. So logistically, you cannot take a shuttle to the North Rim, nor stay at the lodge. You can hike from the South Rim to the North, but again, no lodge – and the North Rim is really cold during winter, so camping there is pretty much out of question.

So, then the only option you are left with logistically speaking is the descend into the canyon on Day1 and plan to stay either at Phantom Ranch or camp at one of the campgrounds. On Day 2, start as close to the North Rim as possible, (I am thinking Cottonwood Campground would be a much better option.) climb up the North Rim trailhead and climb back down to Cottonwood. Then walk to Phantom Ranch. This should be done without carrying a heavy pack. Basically, no tent, no sleeping bag, no sleeping pad. Or any other non-essentials. Should carry enough water and snacks though. Also carry half the sack lunch. On Day 3, after tired legs have been rested enough, start for the South Rim from the River/Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground. Hopefully make it before sun down, then drive out. (As of now I am considering either Zion or back to Phoenix.)

Phantom Ranch Rates and Reservation:


The Distances:


Bright Angel campground is 9.5 miles from the South Rim through the Bright Angel trail.

Phantom Ranch is 9.9 miles from the South Rim through the Bright Angel trail.

South Kaibab trail cuts the distance, but there will be no water. I think I can carry enough water to refill at Phantom Ranch, so on the way down this is not an issue. Even on the way up, I can carry enough water from Phantom Ranch. I might hike down South Kaibab trail if there is no snow on Day 1, to cut distance and to have done all trails.

The North-Kaibab trailhead to Cottonwood campground is 6.8 miles, so if I stayed at Cottonwood campground on Day1, I can shave some distance off the North Rim hike. But that would also mean camping away from Phantom Ranch, and Cottonwood Campground might not have water in November. Decisions decisions! Bright Angel campground to Cottonwood campground is about 7.2 miles one way with about 1600 ft elevation gain, which cannot be discounted. I think it might be a better idea to camp at Cottonwood campground on Day 1.

From some posts on TripAdvisor, it looks like Cottonwood campground

  1. Has compost toilets
  2. Has water faucets (which might not have water in Nov)
  3. Has no running water sinks.

Tentative Itinerary:

Sat – start from Phoenix at 5am, reach grand canyon by around 8:30am. Get the required permits – check with the park staff on weather …etc, and start down on the hike. Reach Phantom Ranch, collect the sack lunch, and head on to Cottonwood campground. Pitch tent and sleep.

16.7 miles of hike. But hardly any elevation gain till Phantom Ranch. Then some minor elevation to Cottonwood campground – 1600 ft elevation gain. I will be carrying a pack. As long as pack weight is manageable, this should be doable. Some 4000-5000ft descent.

Sun – wake up real early – more like 4am, start hike by 5am regardless of how cold it is outside. (get those fancy warmers if necessary.) Leave the pack (or at least the tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad) in the campground. (Might need to see if it can be stored in the area.) If carrying food …etc, leave tent where it is. Finish hike by 6pm, and collect diner from Phantom Ranch. Either stay at Phantom Ranch, or stay at Bright Angel campground.

This will be a 20.8 mile hike. 6.8 * 2 from Cottonwood campground to North Kaibab trailhead and back. And 7.2 miles from Cottonwood to Bright Angel campground. 4161 ft elevation. This is a tough hike! Cold weather will be good to have on my side.

At an average of 2mph, this will take 10 hours. (not accounting for elevation gain and loss.) 14 hours seems more realistic. If I start at 5am, I can expect to finish by 7pm. This assumes no snow on the trail. If snow, no hike. :)

Mon – wake up early-ish, go have early breakfast, and head out of the Bright Angel trail. Expect to take 6-8 hours. If leaving by 8am, will reach around 4pm. Drive out to either Zion or back to Phoenix.

10 miles to South Rim. 4314 ft elevation with a pack. Yikes, this will be challenging as well, considering this will be a climb with a heavy pack.

Physical Conditioning:

I have done some 15 + 12 mile hikes with daypack and backpacks respectively just the last two weekends, and I generally am comfortable cycling decently long distances and running distances (I have run a few half marathons to date – no full yet :) ). I think in terms of endurance, I am pretty good – even after a hard days hike or a half marathon, I still have enough energy to do something for a few hours. I am not great at pace – either running or climbing, but I think that should not matter too much for the hike.

I take planning seriously, and don’t think you should shy away from physical challenges, but at the same time, not take them too lightly. I think over the next 3 weeks leading up to the hike, I will be running, cycling and hiking regularly to get even more conditioned for the upcoming hike.


It’s very easy to be fooled by looking up 1 temperature number for the whole of Grand Canyon.

There are several stations you should be looking at really,

  1. South Rim
    1. http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=pws:KAZGRAND4
    2. Average High/Low in Nov in F – 52/27 (11/-3 C)
  2. Phantom Ranch
    1. http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=pws:MAT680
    2. Average High/Low in Nov in F – 68/46 (20/8 C)
  3. North Rim
    1. http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=pws:MQBAA3
    2. Average High/Low in Nov in F – 46/24 (8/-4 C)


Sat – breakfast can be had at a diner and Lunch can be taken in. (Buy a Sandwich in Phoenix or on the way.) Will stop at Phantom Ranch for some food and water refill before heading to Cottonwood campground. Will need to get an early start. Dinner – 1 sack lunch.

Sun – breakfast has to be carried. (Muesli + Bagel) Pack lunch can be grabbed the previous day from Phantom Ranch. (doubles as dinner the previous day and lunch on this day.) Leave pack at the food storage box or the pack poles. Make it back by Sundown to Cottonwood campground and then to Phantom Ranch. If I start the hike around 5am and brave the cold, I should be able to come back down by around 6:30pm in time for the dinner.

If I stay at Phantom Ranch on Sunday, I can have dinner there, and get a good night’s rest in not so cold conditions. Alternately I can also stay in bright angel campground.

Carry enough trail mix and Cliff Bars.

Might need to carry cook kit, although I’d want to skip this considering it is extra-weight. In case I carry cook kit, Lunch & Dinner – carry stuff. Noodles * 1 + Idahoan or knorr sides + Idahoan.

Mon – breakfast at Phantom Ranch. Start heading up after that – Lunch after reaching rim.

What to pack:

Backpacking Bag:

  1. Sleeping Bag (rated to 35F or lower if camping on Rim.)
    1. Ok, so I had to switch to a colder bag because I think Cottonwood Campground is going to be colder. I will now use a 20F bag instead of the 35F bag.
  2. Sleeping Pad – Klymit V Insulated
  3. Sleeping Pad – Thermarest Z Lite Sol Insulated. (optional depending on weight)
    1. I am surely not carrying this.
  4. 1 person tent + Tarp
  5. Emergency Bivy
  6. Rain Jacket and Rain pants
  7. Base Layer (2X pairs) – One lighter set for the hike, and one to sleep in.
  8. Hiking Shirt and Pants
  9. Fleece Jacket + Gloves + Head Scarf.
  10. Crampons (just in case it snows and ices)
  11. Hiking poles
  12. Hiking Boots and 3 pairs of hiking socks. Extra Shoe laces.
  13. Steripen and Sawyer Filter for water filtration
  14. First Aid Kit + Lip Balm + Hand Sanitizer + Sunscreen.
  15. TP + Plenty of Ziplock bags and Paper Towels. (A Trowel might not be required considering the campgrounds have at least compost pits)
  16. Torch and Headlamp
  17. 1 x Knife
  18. 2 X Polar Bottles + Electrolyte
  19. 1 X 3L bladder.
  20. Hat + Sunscreen
  21. Camera ?

Need to think if I should carry a day pack, or just use the Backpack with all of the load removed for the day hike to the North Rim. I also need to try and keep pack weight to 25-29 pounds. Don’t pack additional stuff beyond that. This includes 10 pounds of water weight, and I guess about 3 pounds of food weight. That allows for only 12 pounds of other stuff including the pack.


Data from the Hike:


Big Bend National Park – Outer Mountain Loop – Backpacking




The Nat Geo topo map is a very helpful resource. Also I had a book by Laurence Parent – which I kind of skimmed through to get some details.

The Plan:

The NPS Website gives a good itinerary for the Outer Mountain Loop. It’s supposed to be a 3 day 2 night itinerary, and after looking at it closely, reading the top map, and with the South Rim hike under my belt in less than 8 hours and not feeling all that exhausted after that hike, I decided to do the itinerary exactly as it was on the NPS suggestion. I have read in forums that the South Rim hike is probably a better backpacking route for people looking for less of a challenge and more views – I actually agree with this – the South Rim is absolutely beautiful, and you could do the Emory side hike as well. Also, if you did the South Rim, there are established backcountry campgrounds all along. For the Outer Mountain Loop, you’d have to Zone Camp – meaning, locate your own area where you want to pitch your tent. ‘

We did plan to cache water at the bear box near the Homer Wilson Ranch. I was thinking that about 5l per person might cut it till we got to the Fresno creek. On a previous South Rim hike I used up about 750ml of electrolyte mixed water and 2l of water itself. That was also roughly 8 hours and an entire day. So, I was thinking we’d manage with 5l of water each.

For the hike, I had invited a couple of my friends – Vivek, Mihir and Shyam, of which Mihir and Vivek made it while Shyam did not. Shyam had just done the Half Dome hike the week before – and he claims he was recovering from it, although I personally think having done Half Dome, this wasn’t challenge enough for him. ;) I had most of the equipment required, and even had some spare stuff, so in terms of equipment we would be fine.

Food Planning:

Instant noodles is always a good option. Mountain-house type freeze dried meals are good, but vegetarian options are hard to come by, not to mention the food is real expensive.

After doing a lot of research as to how much calories we would need considering we would be backpacking, and how much weight we would ideally want to carry, I narrowed down in Idahoan Mashed Potatoes , Knorr Instant Rice, Noodles for Lunch and Dinner and some Muesli and Instant Oatmeal for breakfast, Apart from this, I carried some Hot Cocoa, coffee powder, milk powder and Stevia. Also, trail mix for 3 days and about 6 cliff bars each. We finally decided to make one meal Indian and carried Paneer Butter Masala and Pulav :) from MTR. Basically dip in boiling water and eat. These are heavier to carry, but hey, at least one meal needs to be good :)

Water Planning:

I carried a 3L bladder for water and 2 750ml Polar bottles for water-electrolyte mix. I generally use Powerade mixes with water. I don’t like the sugary Gatorade bottles, but electrolytes are essential while hiking.

Weight Planning:

A lot of work also went into weighing each common item and making sure everyone was roughly carrying the same weight. I didn’t want people to grumble at the end of the hike and feel they carried more than others :) To make sure everyone believed in the fariness of the system, I had a luggage weighing scale – with which to weight the packed backpack before the hike. All of us averaged around 35 pounds, with some variation of course. 35 pounds with good packs and with hiking poles to  support the weight during climbs is generally pretty decent. It’s not ultralight, but it’s not heavy either, unless you are really scrawny.

We did carry a bear-canister just in case. Most of the weight was from the packs, the sleeping bags/pads and the tents. I had to leave behind my camera and my pillow! because they would contribute another 500gms. :) When you tack on a pound to 35+ pounds, every pound matters, and wants become needs very quickly.


Some things fell apart quickly :) I would have ideally wanted to leave around 5pm on Friday, reach Big Bend around 12am, 1am ish, sleep for 5-6 hours and start the hike on Saturday morning at 9am sharp. The Visitor center opens at 8:30 in the Chisos Basin, and you’d need to get backcountry permits before heading out on the hike. So leaving before 9 would not have been possible.

I picked up Mihir in the morning, and he didn’t get much of a sleep the previous night either. Vivek’s flight landed only after mid-night – thanks to it getting delayed. After some thought, Mihir and I decided we would pick him up, and whisk him away directly to Big Bend without coming back home. I did get a  good night’s sleep the previous day, and was reasonably fresh, so I was confident of driving without feeling sleepy. We left a little after mid-night, stopped for a coffee, and started on the drive. As always, there were loads of deer on the road, and one of them decided to cross the road right in front of the car – thankfully I was alert enough and managed to slow down/brake. Next up there were a couple of raccoons in the middle of the road, and when they saw a car approaching, they were pretty much frozen, and didn’t move. I had to bring the car to a stop to avoid hitting them. Thankfully there were no cars behind me. Another raccoon did cross the road in front of me, and I managed to avoid it as well. I can unfortunately not say the same for toads. It is entirely possible that I ran one or two over. :/ It was beginning to rain pretty heavily now, and we hadn’t yet made it to I-10. We finally made it safe to I-10 without contributing to the road-kill. I-10 is a little better in terms of road-kill than the 293 highway is. It was a pretty uneventful drive except for the rains. I had to drive at or below speed limit for most of the time. (which sounds entirely normal, but I do like to go a little above to make up for time :) )

Day 1: Saturday

We reached Fort Stockton at around 6 in the morning, and by this time, I was a little sleepy. Sun was also almost up, so I decided to let Mihir take over on the wheel, and wanted to catch a little bit of a nap. I had slept some 40 minutes, when Mihir decides to wake me up because there was a guy running on the opposite side of the road, and it looked like vehicles were parked there. Turns out, it was some running event! Dang It! That was all the sleep I got.

We finally got to big bend at around 8am in the morning, and continued driving towards Panther Junction. We went in, got our park permits, and also got our back-country permits. It was at least 09:30 at this point. A lot of areas in the park looked clear weather-wise, but from what I could make out, there were dark clouds right above the Chisos Basin. We were not really prepared for hiking in the rain (Although I was carrying an umbrella and a rain jacket) – and thought that if we arrived at the Chisos Basin, and it was raining, we’d cut our hike short to 2 days, and just camp at the Basin Campground.

By the time we started driving towards the Chisos Basin, it was becoming clear that a hike in this weather would not be possible. We reached the basin campground, and found enough empty campgrounds. Obviously the more sensible people had left the campground in such weather and left to the Chisos Basin Lodge instead. From the campground, we went to the Chisos Basin visitor center, and checked the weather report – the weather report said the obvious – rains throughout the day but the next two days would be clear. Also of concern was that the night time temperatures in the Basin would be in the high to low 40’s (F). In terms of clothing, I wasn’t prepared for cold weather, but my sleeping pad was insulated and I had a sleeping bag rated to 30F (which should be comfortable to about 40-45F). We next checked the Basin Lodge to see if there would be any openings – we would get a good sleep and we would get to keep the equipment nice and dry – but no luck – there were no empty rooms and we were asked to check back after 4.

We went back to the campground, picked a spot, pitched the 2 person tent in the rain – which resulted in the tent floor getting a little wet! Dang it! Next time I should use the cover on top first before laying the tent. I never thought about pitching the tent when it was actually raining. It was also getting considerably windy. We then decided to eat something – so after some poorly made coffee (Hey, not enough milk powder, and no sugar and Stevia instead makes your coffee taste pretty bad.), we made some instant rice, and that wasn’t too bad. The second round of the instant rice was pretty bad, and it got burnt at the bottom. :/ Shucks!

After this, I took a short nap in the tent after wiping the floor with paper towel. I didn’t manage to sleep really, but just lying down on the sleeping pad inside the tent was comforting.

By evening – around 4:30pm, 5pm, the rains had subsided considerably and we decided to go on a small hike – we decided to do the “Basin Loop” which is really pretty small. The trail was fully slushy, and I decided to wear a pair of crocs and carry hiking poles :) The other two got their shoes thoroughly covered in wet mud which was almost clay like. We headed back to the campground, re-pitched the 2 person tent because it caught wind like a sail, and decided to uproot itself from the ground. We also pitched Vivek’s 1 person tent. After this we probably had a coffee in the evening.

For dinner, we made noodles – which tasted quite wonderful after the disaster that was lunch. (Burnt instant rice.) I think we also had a pack of Idahoan after this, and instant mashed potatoes don’t taste all that bad when your out camping. In comparison to us who were cooking on a tiny stove and eating meals that were more about weight and calories than taste, there were others who were cooking way better food!

From my photos, we were done eating dinner and doing dishes by around 8:40pm. We were all tired – since we hadn’t gotten much to any sleep the previous night. We decided to retire to bed early. I did check the temperature a little after going to bed and it was 13 C. Yikes!

Day 2: Sunday

The next morning, I think all of us were up early, but the temperatures outside was not inviting. I checked the temperature on my watch and it read 11 C. We finally decided to wake up and get a move on. After having coffee followed by Instant Oatmeal, we decided to pack up our stuff and head out. I think we were done packing the tents by around 9:10 am. However from my photos by the time we got to the trailhead it was 11:30 am. I can’t tell you what we did in those 2 hours, but that was some rotten execution. I’m sure we packed and re-packed our backpacks, we washed the utensils from breakfast and we all changed into hiking clothes, but still ~2.5 hours for that is unacceptable.

We started the hike around 11:30 from the Basin trailhead. The plan was to take

Pinnacles + Colima + Blue Creek on Day 2 and

Blue Creek + Laguna Meadow on Day 3 to return to the Basin trailhead.

I felt pacing at about 2 miles and hour and taking enough breaks in between, we should be done in about 7 hours, so we should be done around 6:30 pm. Unfortunately, I had not accounted for the heavy packs and the more frequent breaks we took. By 4pm, we had done 5.57 miles and needed to do another 5+ miles before sundown. Initially, Mihir was setting the pace and I was last on the single file. After this point, I wanted to set the pace if we were to make before sun-down. We were walking pretty fast, and I almost missed the Blue Creek trail marker :) Mihir and Vivek were faster hiking down than I was – I like to keep a even heart-rate and don’t rush through on the way down considering also that I am not extremely sure-footed on the way down. Let’s say one of us did end up falling – this is part and parcel of hikes, and as long as it’s a minor fall, we do some first aid, and try and get moving after that. By 6:15 pm, we had done 9 miles, and still had about 2 miles to go. At the pace, we would be cutting it fine with respect to the sunset. The other two were pretty tired by this time.

Bear Spotting!

At around 6:45, we spotted a bear not too far away from the trail. Trouble was, the trail was headed right where we spotted it. After stopping on our tracks, we decided to carry on with caution after the bear went into the mountains. We crossed this point armed with hiking poles and stones :) (and knives of course – if it came to that.) Thankfully, the bear never showed up after that. Having seen the bear, and with the sun almost setting on us, I had to literally jog to make sure we camped by sunset.

We reached the Homer Wilson Ranch by 7:30 pm. We were too tired to head to the bear box and come back down. We decided we would cook food, eat, pitch out tents for the night, and then consider stowing our food away at the bear box. We all had enough water in person for the cooking and drinking at night, so we didn’t need to use the water from the cache yet.

We had some hot cocoa, and then after cooking and having delicious Pulav and Paneer Butter Masala, and having pitched out tents, we headed out to wash the utensils. After washing utensils, we wanted to take the food and trash to the bear box, but in the dark, even with flashlights, we couldn’t find the trail leading to the bear box. So, we decide to put the trash in a plastic bottle, and the food in the bear-canister that we had carried, and leave it nearby. After this, we all retired to bed for much needed rest.

Here’s data from the hike:

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 12.11.30 AM

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 12.11.00 AM

Day 3: Monday

I woke up again at around 7am, but it was too cold outside. After some time, I decide to go dig myself a cathole :) Wasn’t all that bad or big deal. The trowel did come in handy. After the others had woken up, we took stock of the situation, and decided we would not hike back to the Chisos Basin campground. I personally wanted to do the hike, and would have at least wanted to do the hike without carrying some of our gear out, but in the end I decided it was best not to push anyone.

After having noodles for breakfast :) followed by some bad coffee, Mihir walked to the road near the bear box, hitched a ride to the Basin campground and got the car back. In the meantime, Vivek and I finished packing all our stuff. We decided to walk up to the Ross Maxwell Scenic Highway and wait for Mihir there. At about 12:30 Mihir arrived back with the car. We hiked down to the Homer Wilson Ranch, collected out packs, and left to the car. Once in the car, we drove the the Pather Junction visitor center, told them we had made it back :) and left. By the time we were outside the park, it was already 2pm. We had to drive to Austin, and by my estimates, we would reach around 9-9:30 ish.

Lunch at Alfredos – Fort Stockton:

We all stuffed our faces with food at this Mexican restaurant. The food was pretty ok, and we were finally having decently cooked meals after more than 2 days, so that was a welcome relief.

Almost Running Out of Fuel:

At around 6pm, I noticed that I was almost out of gas! I was hoping and praying that a gas station exit would come some time soon. Thankfully Ozona was close by – we finally reached the gas station with the Car Range reading 0 miles! Yikes!

I got myself a coffee, told the attendant their Gas Station was a Godsend :) and we hit the road again. By the time we were done with the I-10 stretch, the sun had set again. I hate driving on 293 at night because of the animals, but we were nearly home and just wanted to get back. Picked up some food on the way, came back home, took nice hot showers after 3 days had dinner, and slept well deserved sleeps. :)

Some pics from the hike:

Big Bend National Park – South Rim Loop – Day Hike

Ok, so I had plans of doing the Outer Mountain Loop (I still have plans, and would have probably done it already before I publish this post.) and wanted to do a day hike as a kind of get to know the park visit.

I live in Austin and having moved from Phoenix area, which had an abundant number of hikes from nearby ranges to Flagstaff, Mt.Lemmon and even the Grand Canyon not too far away, Austin in comparison is a little light on (good/challenging) hiking spots. There are plenty of trails, don’t get me wrong – but most offer a relatively flat terrain. The hardest hike in the Austin area seems to be the ‘Nature Trail’ hike, and that isn’t even challenging enough where I have to carry a cereal bar with me. (I am not dumb, and do carry water though.)

So, I was researching hikes close to Austin, and Big Bend seems to be the go to winter spot for decent hikes in Texas. I was looking for a fairly challenging hike, and looks like the Outer Mountain Loop is a pretty good hike. Of course, to do this, you’d have to backpack, because I don’t think doing 30 miles in a day is advisable. (although, I am wondering if it can be managed if you were prepared to start real early, and hike after sunset. It will also be worth looking at a 2 day itinerary of the OML instead of the more common 3 day.) Anyway, more on the OML later – this is supposed to be a post on the South Rim Loop.

I wanted to do a day hike of the 14-16 mile loop to get a sense of the area. Bid Bend is a 6.5 hour drive from Austin unfortunately, and you have to be a little crazy to want to drive as far to do a day hike, but hey that’s what not doing good hikes for a year does to you! (Considering I have driven from Austin to SFO and back earlier, this is hardly that crazy.) I read a couple of posts on people who have done it in a day in roughly 10 hours. (maybe at an easy pace ?) There isn’t a whole lot of elevation – 2000+ ft I think.


I found some good posts on the hike and am including references to them,

  1. Looks like these guys backpacked – and camped backcountry.


2. Nice General Info


3. Backpacker Article


I bought the ebook by Laurence Parent to get some information on the park. The book is fairly informative – but you can probably get most of the information online if you are ok reading multiple articles, and taking notes. I did get a nice map of the whole loop and managed to put the info about all 3 hikes (the south rim hikes) into a single page, and print it out for reference. Of course, I had a topo map from NatGeo to take along as well.


The plan was to leave Austin around 4-5pm on a Friday, reach Big Bend at night around 11pm. Initially I was looking at lodging options both inside and outside the Park. There is a Chisos Lodge inside, and a motel right outside (~30 miles ?) the park. But considering me and a (possibly) a couple of friends are going to be backpacking in the same place, I thought might be a good idea to camp instead. i.e., not carry a heavy backpack, and carry only a light day pack, but you know, have the tent and stuff in the car instead.

So the plan evolved to staying in one of the camp sites in the Chisos Basin. (With a little luck, there will be no crowd – else I’ll probably have to sleep in the car.) I tried finding out from the NPS website on how to book these camp sites, but looks like you can only book them within a certain date range. (And that does not encompass my planned dates.) So, after waiting on the line for about 20 mins of listening to recorded messages, I got on line with someone in the park, and told them that I would be arriving after Park hours, and would need to camp. I wondered how I would pay, and if it is ok to pay the day after. He said, there would be self-registration forms near the camp site that I would have to fill, and it would be ok to pay the day after. That was a good piece of information that they could have had on their website, but the website is pretty informative otherwise, so not a lot to complain about.

I’ll probably carry an e-book reader just so I don’t get bored at night on Saturday. I’ll probably stay there on Saturday night as well, considering I might finish the hike late, and then drive out on Sunday morning.

My planned route:

0. Start From Basin trailhead, take the left fork towards South Rim (Pinnacles Trail)

  1. Most likely do the detour to Emory peak and back on the Pinnacles trail. (I don’t think I can do the toll mountain as well unfortunately. Might be overambitious)
  2. Continue on Boot Canyon trail. This would be 5.3 miles. (not including the Emory Peak Detour) At the intersection of Boot Canyon and Northeast rim, decide on whether or not I want to do the Northeast Rim + Southeast Rim detour depending on what time of the day it is, and based on how much I have hiked, and how I am feeling generally. This will add 3.3 miles to the loop (but will remove about 0.7 miles from the main loop.)
  3. South Rim might be a good place to take a lunch break. Start From South Rim, take the Laguna Meadow Trail, pass Colima trail junction, Blue Creek Trail junction and keep going till the Basin trailhead. This is another 6.3 miles.

So in total, not including Emory peak, it would be 15 miles. (Including it might be 18+ miles) I think that sounds like a good day hike. :) There is at least 2000 ft of elevation gain. So while this is no Half Dome hike, I think it comes close in terms of distance and 1/2 the elevation. I guess if you included Toll Mountain, it might be an equivalent-ish hike.

Packing List:

I have to divide this into two lists,

  1. The stuff I will carry on the day hike – which will be in my day pack
    I ended up carrying the following: Day pack, First-Aid kit, Point & Shoot Camera, Torch, Headlight, Cliff Bars * 2, Bagel * 1, Half a Subway Sub :), 2 bottles of water mixed in electrolyte mix (Polar 32 oz bottles), 3l platypus hydration pack, small umbrella, portable battery charger, small foldable knife, an extra phone (to track metrics in case the one phone conked out). The ~5l of water was heavy! and with the daypack not having any stays, it was heavy even with the sternum and waist straps adjusted right.
  2. The stuff I will carry in my backpack (which will just remain in the boot of the car.) – This will include my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag …etc. I am a little undecided on food – and am thinking I’ll just try and eat meals in the lodge if that is possible. But I might also just take my stove along in case I want to cook something quickly. (Hey, the whole camping experience and stuff, right ?) I don’t think I’m going to be conservative in packing at all – I don’t need to lug this stuff around – so I’ll be going for max comfort, over minimum weight.)


I started from Austin at 4:00 pm on Friday, and was stuck in a bit of traffic before hitting I-10. I made it through most of I-10 and to Fort Stockton by a little after sunset. Stopped to refuel at Fort Stockton at around 9pm, ate half a subway sandwich, and started back to the park. The 385 highway stretch was quite desolate, and there were many animals crossing the road – enough to scare you. I reached Big Bend a little before mid-night, but the drive inside towards the Chisos Basin campground was slow, and took me roughly till midnight to get there to find there were no camp-sites available. (Actually, this is partly my fault – I had no plan B in case no camp-sites were available.) After contemplating if I should just sleep in the car in the parking lot (which is probably not allowed.), I decided to go to the Rio Grande Village campground, which was at least 20 miles away, and would take a further 40 minutes +. I reached the campground after 1am, and immediately pitched the tent and went to sleep. It got a little cold at night when I had to get into the sleeping bag :) , but readings taken at night and morning were 23 C and 21 C – definitely not bad weather to sleep outside. There were some animal howls at night, and people walking on gravel, but I mostly slept well.

On Saturday, I woke up at around 7am. There was thankfully a toilet at the RGV campground. I quickly packed up my tent afterwards, and left for the Chisos Visitor center, where I paid the park fees, and was in a hurry to get started on the hike. Had a bagel which I had packed in the day before, but no coffee before the hike. I basically changed into my hiking clothes near my car right near the trailhead. :) and set out to hike at 9am.

I reached the top of Emory-Peak by 12, and had my half a sub worth of lunch there. Afterwards, I headed out on the South Rim trail, and took another break at the South Rim. The views are simply remarkable from this point. I skipped the Northeast Rim loop, since I wanted to finish the hike by 5pm, and adding another 3 miles would have added at least an hour to my time.

I ended up finishing the hike at exactly 5pm near the Chisos trailhead. The original plan was to camp there on Saturday night as well, but I wasn’t feeling all that tired, and decided to just drive back home. :)

I spotted a couple of white tailed deers along the trail, and one Scorpion towards the end of the trail.


Here’s the full hike (South Rim loop + Emory peak side hike.)

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 3.17.15 PM

Here’s Emory Peak Side hike split on it’s own

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 3.17.05 PM

Here’s the South Rim hike minus the Emory Peak side hike

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 3.16.55 PM

The SF 1st Half Marathon – July 2015

So, I ran my 5th half marathon (4th technically, considering one of them was a DNF thanks to the organizers not calculating the distance correctly.), and managed to improve my previous time by quite a bit – roughly 6 minutes I think. And considering there was more elevation involved than my previous runs, I think I had a fairly decent run. The last two miles could have been better, but that’s always a pain point.

The Preparation:

Preparation is always a problem. With busy schedules, and outside weather, it can become difficult to stick to a nice regimen where you feel confident with each passing day. After running the Austin Half Marathon in February, (on Valentines Day, no less ;) ) my activity levels dropped to like sub-zero levels, thanks mostly to a maddening work schedule. It wasn’t till mid May that I felt I had enough time to start running again, and by then I felt both sluggish and the constant left knee pain. By now my plan was to substitute runs for bike rides to get the cardio in, but keep the knee from getting over-strained. I enjoy biking anyway, so it isn’t such a bad trade-off.

By end of June, I was feeling pretty good about myself, when thanks to either my posture at work or my sleeping posture, or my stupid mattress which is supposed to be “Extra Firm” but is anything but that, I developed a very bad lower back pain. I do not like seeking medical help for minor issues especially if I feel those will go away with rest. Initially I tried biking and running with it, and it seemed ok – the pain did not get exacerbated. Then one nice run, the pain was intense and shooting pains along the lower back lead me to take it easy and stop all forms of physical activity with 2 weeks to go for the event – not good. I was hoping I’d be able to at least complete the race by walking instead of running in the worst case. While I was trying to manage the pain, running again was pretty much out of the question.

I did try a couple of practice walks the week before the event, and those went ok. So going into the event, I hadn’t really run in two weeks. Yikes!

Pre Race Day:


Race Day:

Me, a friend (Shyam) and a friend of his, went late to the event. I was supposed to be in wave 4 and he was in wave 7, and by the time we got to the start line, everyone but the last Full Marathon wave was gone. To make matters worse, I didn’t fill my bottles with water, and now had no way of doing it before beginning the run. Considering the SF Marathon organizers screwed up the aid stations last year, this was not comforting.

We started the run behind almost everyone, and the initial couple of miles, my back was singing to me – I was being cautious and didn’t want to overdo it, so was trying to pace myself to 10 min/mile. Miles 1-5 were pretty alright, with me stopping once for water/electrolytes. At this point, I was roughly averaging roughly 10 min a mile.

Mile 6 is a 200ft climb, and I managed a 12:20 mile.

By mile 7 when I was on Golden Gate, I was beginning to get hungry – I had eaten nothing in the morning and had drank half a bottle of Naked juice. I generally eat a bagel or a banana before starting a run. Golden gate is pretty packed with runners and finding opportunities to get past slower runners can be slightly annoying.

Mile 8 was again slightly slow owing to the water stop, and eating the gu gel while walking at a comfortable pace, so that I didn’t choke on it. I also took the opportunity to fill one of my bottles.

Miles 9,10 and 11 were also pretty neatly done in spite of some more climbs and down slopes – you cannot go as fast on the down slopes as you’d like because your knees get pounded pretty bad.

The last 2 miles was roughly another 200ft climb, and this was pretty killer. I hadn’t really prepared for this – I hadn’t looked at the elevation map, and tried planning my run based on that because I figured it is what it is. At the end of mile 11, I was 1:55:15. I figured with 2 miles to go, and not feeling all that weary, I’d make 2:15:00, which is a personal goal for me. But if you factor in the 200 ft climb, that pretty much kills you. Also considering my left knee was beginning to act up by now, I was a little doubtful. I think I held out till 12.5 miles – finishing mile 12 in 2:06:26 (ok, 8:30 last mile was going to be hard even on a flat) and doing 12.5 miles in 2:11:40. The last 0.6 miles took me , well, 8 minutes and 20 seconds – you guessed it – pretty much walking pace. Roughly a 100 ft climb in the 0.6 miles is pretty sucky! By then I had run out of steam, and didn’t care. My left knee was also beginning to let me know it wasn’t happy. I did manage to finish in 2:20:07, which is ok, considering the elevation, but a 2:15 would have been nice nevertheless. I did run conservatively for the most part, and even after the event wasn’t all that tired except for the left knee giving me a lot of pain, and my back also beginning to chime in.

To be fair, I think running with someone also gave me some extra impetus to do slightly better. Whenever I saw Shyam ahead of me, I’d at least slowly try to catch up, and he was right there with me till about mile 8 after which I lost him.


Post Race:


Next Steps:

I’d like to do a 2:15 then a 2:10, then a 2:05 and finally break sub 2:00 – hopefully before the end of the year. :) I also don’t think I’m going to be running any more paid half marathons for now. I don’t much care for the finisher medals, and I am not fast enough to consider it racing. Maybe when I am close to a 1:30 finish, I will pay to run again. I might based on my timing run one more in India if I happen to visit later this year.

Atlas Shrugged

I’ve been trying to complete Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged since last November. I’m still not done, although I am almost there. A couple more upcoming flights later, I should hopefully be done. Now coming to why I picked up the book, I had read The Fountainhead (I don’t remember if it was at someones suggestion) back when I was in my undergrad and in the first or second year. I loved the book – I cannot remember why, but I loved it. But I also felt it was a little heavy for my personality – I have generally been a happy go lucky kind of person – I don’t consciously like to be a deep thinker, although I find myself wandering into that territory from time to time without purposely intending to do so. So, while I have known of Atlas Shrugged’s existence since at least then (perhaps even earlier, and this was a good 9 years back!), I never felt like I wanted to read it. I kept myself happy and engaged reading science fiction – you know, nothing about values and what’s right and wrong and all that. :) I also read fast paced action books – it’s mindless and exciting and I prefer it to action movies anyway. (those are even more dumbed down.) I have generally not gone back to reading drama from authors like Grisham, because I find that too slow. Anyway, I was trying to borrow audio books from a public library here in the US, when I stumbled upon Atlas Shrugged again. I tried listening to it while jogging/walking and found that I needed to pay too much attention to the book to be able to multi-task. I had finished an audiobook before this, so I don’t think it was so much an inability on my part to multi-task, but this book demanded more from me in terms of attentiveness and cognition. So I decided to borrow the actual book from the library so that I could focus on the one task of reading the book, and instantly found myself wishing that I had borrowed the e-book instead. This is a 1200+ page book, and isn’t light on the hands. So, then I started with the e-book, and was reading at a steady clip – 50+ pages a day at night before retiring to bed. By December, I was making steady progress, but couldn’t read the book at the pace I normally do – I know Rand uses too many adjectives :D (somebody should do an analysis of it. A quick web-search didn’t yield any results, although Atlas Shrugged is supposedly one of the longest books written.) and that slows you down a tad. I then carried my Nook e-reader to India and on my way back, managed to put a lot of crap into my back-pack and managed to crack the screen. I was stuck again, without knowing where I had left off on the book. It took me a few months before I bought a Kobo Aura to replace the broken Nook, and continued reading again. It’s mid-July right now, and if I keep at it for a little longer, I will close in on a year and this would have been the longest I have taken to complete a book. :) (Actually, I think I did take longer to complete First Among Equals – but there I purposely took a break, because I didn’t initially find it captivating enough.)

I wanted to write my impressions of what I thought of the book, because it is a book that makes you sit down up and take notice and think. It also presents ideas that are polarizing – many will agree with it, while many presumably hate Rand for her philosophies. I have felt strongly about certain things all my life, and Rand’s ideas seem to be on similar lines, although, I had never given word to my thoughts so explicitly or clearly. I have also never been able to absolutely stick to one set of philosophies rigidly as Rand does – I have somehow believed that no one way of thinking can be right at all times. I’ll write more later, but I might already be forgetting how I felt reading some portions of the book – that’s the problem about taking too long to complete a book. I have also never discussed my belief systems openly in the past, for multiple reasons, but mainly because once I am set on my views, and it if is my private set of views that nobody needs to learn about and will affect nobody, then I didn’t see the reason in discussing it, and debating on it. I now feel, I’ll only learn more from rational arguments, so it will be interesting to actually read about differing points of views. I can say confidently that many people I know will fall in the camp of disagreeing with the philosophies of Rand, and as an extension mine as well, but we’ll get to that. :)